Alarming Number of American Teens are Depressed
> 5/14/2008 12:38:33 PM

An exhuastive survey of young America has uncovered a depression epidemic that affects teens across age, race and economic boundaries and hits adolescent girls the hardest. Based on surveys of more than 67,000 Americans aged 12-17 between 2004 and 2006, researchers at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration working from data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health determined that 8.5% of participants had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the previous 12-month period. Stark gender-based differences were the study's most revealing factor, as the stunning 12.7% share of girls who reported such episodes was nearly triple that of the 4.6% of boys who said the same. The number may not seem particularly high when considering that 1 in 10 individuals will suffer from depression at some point during their lifetimes, but this survey only applied to the previous 12 months.

Major depressive episode is defined as a period lasting at least two weeks in which the subject experiences a noted downturn in mood, a loss of pleasure and motivation and at least 4 other symptoms including insomnia, weight loss, fatigue, trouble concentrating, feelings of worthlessness or negative self image and recurring thoughts of death or suicide. According to the survey, at least 2 million young Americans went through this horrific experience at least once in the past year. And for many, the episode lasted far longer than 2 weeks. These numbers are especially worrisome because depression is the primary predictor of suicide, which is the number 3 cause of death among Americans aged 15-24. We should also note that, for every completed suicide, 8-25 individuals try unsuccessfully to end their own lives, so the number of these 2 million who have harmed themselves in some form is certainly considerable.

Almost half of those who reported experiencing a period of major depression also said that it severely compromised their ability to carry out at least one of their regular life functions - be it school, athletics, creative hobbies, social life or family activities. Those most severely affected were reportedly unable to do much of anything for at least 58 days during the previous year. The most important element missing from this press release is the undoubtable fact that a considerable number of these young people continue to use alcohol and/or other drugs in a misguided effort at self-medication. Statistics collected over the last few years also imply that depression levels increase with age. The reason for this shift is unclear.

The question on many minds is likely: why? A survey cannot begin to answer a question with more than 2 million unique answers. But we need to begin finding out, and we need to do it as soon as possible to ensure that the emotional scars of severe chronic depression mark as few members of the new generation as possible. Researchers assert that parents should watch for symptoms such as sleeplessness, dietary changes and an obsession with death, and those who suspect that their children are suffering from depression should address it with the same sense of urgency they would any other major health problem. Even absent answers to the question of why, support and treatment can mean the difference between a healthy life and continued struggles.

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